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Niches Boost Apparel Sales

Mar 1, 2008

The retail apparel sector can benefit significantly by expansion into niche clothing markets. A wide range of suppliers specializing in niches have gained strength nationwide, and also in geographic areas with differing demographics. While it pays for retailers to explore the potential in these niche markets, it is also an opportune time to discover suppliers of closeouts. Basics, such as T-shirts, socks, underwear and fleece apparel, always sell well, and buying at closeout prices enables retailers to offer bargains and maintain healthy profit margins.

The same is true for name brand apparel. Top brands from suppliers that specialize in obtaining shelf pulls and overstocks from upscale stores give retailers a big competitive edge. That edge is increasingly important in today's climate of escalating gas prices and high home heating bills.

Go Western
A largely unexplored niche that is gaining in popularity is western wear, such as cowboy outfits inspired primarily by Hispanic cultures, according to Jack Shamoeil, president of Fandango Los Angeles. "Men's western style shirts with outlined yokes have become extremely popular in high fashion boutiques," he says, where they can sell for three figures each.

His company carries more than 20 different styles in solids, plaids, with or without embroidery, and in long sleeve and short sleeve versions. Fandango Los Angeles imports directly from its own factory, which translates into good wholesale prices.

The average wholesale for a shirt is $13, and suggested retail is between $24.99 and $29.99, Shamoeil says. The company not only offers its own Fandango Los Angeles brand, which gives retailers exclusivity, but also makes private label goods for retailer customers.

Shirts aren't all the company supplies. Its western selection also includes felt cowboy hats, straw sombreros, jeans, boots, leather jackets and big buckle metal belts. The boots, belts and shoes are all made of exotic skins, including original ostrich and crocodile. The metal items are exclusive to Fandango Los Angeles, which also carries dress belt accessories. "We have some normal apparel," Shamoeil says, "but the western assortment is our specialty and fastest growing segment."

Jeans from the company wholesale at an average of $12 per pair. Felt cowboy hats wholesale for $35 and up, and have a suggested retail of $59.99 to $89.99. The sombreros have an average wholesale of $25 and go up from there, with suggested retails of $39.99 to $29.99.

While men's is the primary market, Fandango Los Angeles also carries some ladies western wear and also has apparel for kids, including matching outfits for kids and adults.

Shamoeil says, based on the growing success of his lines, Fandango is working on developing some point of sale displays to help retailers let customers know their stores are a source for this apparel niche. In addition, his knowledgeable staff is always available to give new retailers advice on a mix that will do well in specific locations and with the retailer's clientele.

Go Eastern
Two suppliers see rising demand for apparel from another part of the world: the East and Far East. Belly dancing apparel is offered by another Los Angeles company, Style in Fashion, which does business as West Side Designs and International Clothing, and from HB Trading, which also based in LA. Andy Jethwani, president of Style in Fashion, carries a large variety of apparel from India and Thailand.

That includes dresses, scarves, scarf sets and blouses, in addition to belly dancing belts and outfits. "There is growing demand for this type of clothing in all parts of the country," he reports.

"We like to talk with retailers and help them put together an assortment that gives a good sampling of what we carry. We have long experience in what sells best in which markets, and with what types of customers. We like to offer this guidance, because we want our customers to succeed and come back to us for more," he reasons.

The minimum order is $300 and can include an assortment from the company's full line. The typical unit wholesale price is between $10 and $20, Jethwani says, which allows retailers to more than double that price in their stores.

Belly dancing dresses are a hot item with HP trading, too, reports owner Haresh Patel. His company also carries fancy scarves, stoles, skirts and dresses in exotic styles. HP also carries more traditional attire, including jeans, tank tops, T-shirts and outerwear, in addition to fashion jewelry.

"We have a wide variety with lots of color," Patel says, "and new items are arriving all the time." A majority of the items are sold in prepacks, and the number of items in each varies according to each unit. The minimum order is $500, and can include an assortment of all items HP Trading offers.

"Our pricing is very competitive, and all the items are first quality merchandise," Patel adds. As an example, a pair of denim jeans typically wholesales for $8 and has a suggested retail of $24.99 or more. Retailers can sign up at the company website and receive a password for free that gives access to wholesale prices.

Street Wear Spreads
The popularity of hip hop urban wear has been witnessed on city streets all across the country for several seasons, but now it has reached well beyond just cities, according to Mike Davood, co owner of Steal Deal Inc., based in Los Angeles. The name brands are notoriously expensive, and the styles are, "driven by MTV," Davood says.

While Steal Deal carries some name brand items, their specialty is off brand merchandise that reflects the style of such popular identities as Artful Dodger, Coogi, Ed Harey and others, but has its own, unique twist. These items can be obtained at wholesale prices that give retailers an edge in this hot category. "We have more than 50 styles, more than 2,500, if you count T-shirts," Davood says. As for T-shirts, he says the popular sizes, which his company makes, range from extra large to six X. "They are blankets," he quips, "and the market loves them."

None of Steal Deal's T-shirts wholesale for more than $6, and the majority wholesale for $4. The top price is for styles that have rhinestones and other real bling bling decorations. "Anything with skulls is going to be big for spring and summer," he says, "and all over printed foil T-shirts are very hot now and will continue to be." Another style features a real dollar bill. As for the company's jeans, many have full color embroidered decoration on the pockets. Themes include Samurai, Asian motifs and monkeys. None of the jeans wholesales for more than $15. Most of Steal Deal's shoes wholesale below $20 a pair.

While all merchandise is featured on the company's website in color, each category has specials, and Davood encourages retailers to call for the deepest discounts. There are starter kits for $300 and $500, and these assortments can be tailored to individual markets.

"There are so many different things in urban wear, and some stores may not want to carry certain themes, such as those with guns, for example," Davood explains. "That's why we like to walk through assortments with beginning retailers, so we can develop a good selling selection."

He advises retailers to, "be versatile. Don't stick just to T-shirts," he advises, "but offer a selection that will distinguish the store as a popular source for this customer base."

The Steal Deal website provides recent news on this trend and also spotlights the top nine best sellers at any given time. While the company does not require any dollar minimum order, Davood says most items are sold in six piece breakdowns of the same style, in an assortment of sizes from large to three X.

Profiting From Tried and True
Niches are the frosting on the cake. For the substance, there's the cake itself, along with bread and butter suppliers that provide closeout merchandise across the full spectrum of the apparel sector.

Madison Avenue Closeouts in Charlotte, NC, serves the top of the line with name brand apparel from upscale department store chains and specialty retailers. Its assortment covers women's and children's footwear, swimwear, lingerie, outerwear, suits and accessories.

The majority of merchandise carried in its warehouses are shelf pulls with some overstocks; all first quality goods. These typically wholesale for 80 to 90 percent off the original retail price, says Lisa Sperow, owner.

The brands are some of the best sellers in the industry. They include Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Liz Claiborne, Jones New York and many others. The company will also obtain, on order, customer returns, which can wholesale for even less, and will place special orders for men's apparel. Sperow says she has recently contracted with several new sources for top brand, first quality children's apparel from her company's major retailers.

"Children's is our biggest growth area now," she reports. She also points out that children's apparel is recession proof, since kids grow and are always in need of new clothing. "They need a new wardrobe every season," she notes. Madison Avenue Closeouts sells by the lot, pallet or truckload. The minimum varies by product line. Sperow says on most orders, the minimum is for 100 pieces. While prices vary depending on content, she says the bulk of items from the company's warehouses are wholesaled from $4 to $7 per piece.

In the higher priced categories such as suits and outerwear, Sperow says the minimum can be as low as 24 pieces. New shipments arrive every week, and there are often special deals on liquidations. Regular customers are notified by email, and others can sign up for free on the company's website to get these email alerts.

No one buys blind from Madison Avenue Closeouts. "We know our content really well," Sperow says, "and we give our retailer customers all the information we have. That includes the exact size range, seasonality, brands and also a good idea of any concentrations; that is, whether an order is heavy with jeans or tops, for example. We also let them know if it contains a lot of duplicates." "We take a consultative approach with retailers, especially new ones," she adds. "We like to talk about their market, clientele, price point range and other factors, so we can guide them toward top sellers in their own region and market."

"We also advise on pricing for maximum profitability and a balance between volume and profits. And we also guide them toward complementary lines and combinations. Complementary goods not only sell best for a retailer, but also tend to raise the total ticket," she explains. "Its smart to be able to sell multiple items to the same consumer."

Julius Young was founded on New York's lower east side in 1933, and is now strictly wholesale and based in Newark, NJ. Joel Hirsch, a manager and head of information technology for the company, says its specialty is closeouts and irregulars on such popular basics as T-shirts, fleecewear, underwear, socks and outerwear.

"We offer real low, down and dirty pricing on as-is, damaged merchandise," he says, noting that basic colored T-shirts wholesale for 90 cents. "Our retailer customers buy as-is, print on them to cover up any damage, and can obtain a nice mark up," he notes.

"While we have many customers that order a couple hundred dozen at a time, we do not discourage small buyers," Hirsch says. "The minimum order is a box of T-shirts containing 72 pieces, and the minimum on fleece is typically 24 pieces." "We always have basics," he says, adding, "it's a quick changing market." To keep retailers informed, Julius Young has five in-house salespeople who call or email regular customers when a new shipment arrives. Retailers can also see the variety of merchandise that's available on the company's website.

Julius Young has some long running programs with a large grocery chain for which it developed a special display unit. "If a customer wants that and asks for a program that includes displayers, we're open to working with them," Hirsch adds. Via Trading Corporation in Vernon, CA is also a specialist in overstocks and customer returns. "Our selection covers all market levels," says Jacques Stambouli, CEO, "and also encompasses apparel for men, women and children."

Much of the product is first quality. "We're liquidators, and we occasionally run special deals," Stambouli says. The typical minimum order is a case of 100 pieces containing an assortment. "Sometimes it is segmented by category, such as men's or women's, for example, and subdivided into shirts, or designer labels or non brands."

Prices from Via Trading are typically about 20 percent of wholesale or lower, according to Stambouli. Samples are shown on the website, and the staff is always available for guidance and consultation.

This is not a year for just standing still, most retail consultants advise. It's a year in which all merchants and apparel retailers will benefit from exploring new opportunities and expanding the base.

The following were interviewed for this article:

Jack Shamoeil, president
Fandango Los Angeles
814 South Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
Toll Free: 877-777-6556
Tel.: 213-627-4050
Fax: 213-629-0447
Website: www.fandangolosangeles.com

Haresh Patel, owner
HP Trading
120 East 15th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Toll Free: 866-944-0333
Tel.: 213-745-0333 and 213-745-6747
Fax: 909-498-1100
Website: www.hpfashions.com

Joel Hirsch, manager
Julius Young
38-60 Blanchard Street
Newark, NJ 07105
Tel.: 973-465-7722
Fax: 973-465-7317
Website: www.juliusyoung.com

Lisa Sperow, owner
Madison Avenue Closeouts
5400 West W.T. Harris Boulevard, Ste. K
Charlotte, NC 28269
Toll Free: 866-795-7990
Tel.: 704-596-0554
Fax: 704-596-0594
Website: www.madisonavenuecloseouts.com

Mike Davood, co-owner
Steal Deal Inc.
1220 Maple Avenue, Ste. 609
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Toll Free: 800-416-6149
Tel.: 213-747-6347
Fax: 213-747-6330
Website: www.stealdealinc.com

Andy Jethwani, president
Style in Fashion D/ba West Side Designs and International Clothing
321 East Olympic Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Tel.: 213-624-9728
Fax: 213-624-2115
Website: www.styleinfashion.com

Jacques Stambouli, chief executive officer
Via Trading Corporation
2750 South Alameda Street
Vernon, CA 90058
Toll Free: 877-202-3616
Tel.: 323-232-1616
Toll Free Fax: 877-677-5975
Fax: 323-232-1717
Website: www.viatrading.com

Topic: Product Trends

Related Articles: apparel 

Article ID: 540

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